This summer has been an interesting one for those who are used to following the NBA 365 days a year. With no Summer League, no trade talks and no free agent signings, a lot of us have been forced to get our hoops fix watching old NBA games on ESPN Classic and NBATV. Recently, I watched a pair of Lakers/Bulls games from the 97-98 season. It was the Bulls last run as one of the most dominant units in NBA history and we were barely seeing the seeds being planted for the growth of the league’s preeminent cores in the Post-Jordan era.
Although it still burns me that the Nick Van Exel/Eddie Jones back court never got to the Finals to this day, those years gave birth to the Kobe/Shaq (or the Shaq/Kobe era, whatever) and some of the best basketball in Lakers history. What I appreciate most about those two Lakers/Bulls games from 1998 wasn’t just the Kobe/Jordan matchup, but the fact that Jordan went so hard at Kobe in those games (and in the all-star game). There was a competitive nature in Jordan that made him want to rip the heart out of any kid who the media thought could come for his spot atop the hoops hierarchy. More often than not, Jordan made scoring on Kobe look easy, but he seemingly appreciated the fact that Kobe’s own competitive spirit wouldn’t back down from the greatest who ever lived.
That old great v. budding star dynamic has now been flipped on its head with Kobe now into his 30s playing in a league full of young, talented shooting guards who all want to take a shot at a guy they grew up watching. Today, we can watch Kobe and see how he adapted parts of Jordan’s game into his, then worked on some of those skills to make them his own. I’m not pointing these things out to spark a debate about the merits of their skill levels, but to point out that Kobe has now become the teacher, and we could be watching the next great shooting guard today. We’ve seen how Kobe has taken it upon his self to go hard at guys like OJ Mayo and Eric Gordon, and there may (or may not) be something to read into that. What we do know is that, at some point, there will be another shooting guard who has taken what he’s learned form watching Kobe, and will build his game to turn some of Kobe’s brilliant footwork into moves of his own.
So today, I want to share my appreciation for MJ and Kobe with the (short) video below. It’s a few clips of Jordan giving young Kobe the blues, then some of Kobe doing some of the same to today’s defenders. Enjoy.